Organic Food Health Benefits Have Been Hard to Assess, but that Could Change

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Organic Food Health Benefits Have Been Hard to Assess, but that Could Change

By Cynthia Curl, Assistant Professor, Boise State University. First published on The Conversation

“Organic” is more than just a passing fad. Organic food sales totaled a record US$45.2 billion in 2017, making it one of the fastest-growing segments of American agriculture. While a small number of studies have shown associations between organic food consumption and decreased incidence of disease, no studies to date have been designed to answer the question of whether organic food consumption causes an improvement in health.

I’m an environmental health scientist who has spent over 20 years studying pesticide exposures in human populations. Last month, my research group published a small study that I believe suggests a path forward to answering the question of whether eating organic food actually improves health.

What we don’t know

According to the USDA, the organic label does not imply anything about health. In 2015, Miles McEvoy, then chief of the National Organic Program for USDA, refused to speculate about any health benefits of organic food, saying the question wasn’t “relevant” to the National Organic Program. Instead, the USDA’s definition of organic is intended to indicate production methods that “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

While some organic consumers may base their purchasing decisions on factors like resource cycling and biodiversity, most report choosing organic because they think it’s healthier.

Sixteen years ago, I was part of the first study to look at the potential for an organic diet to reduce pesticide exposure. This study focused on a group of pesticides called organophosphates, which have consistently been associated with negative effects on children’s brain development. We found that children who ate conventional diets had nine times higher exposure to these pesticides than children who ate organic diets.

Karlie Kloss Invests In BUBBLE, Health + Wellness Hub Led By Jessica Young, Formerly of Daily Harvest

Karlie Kloss Invests In BUBBLE, Health + Wellness Hub Led By Jessica Young, Formerly of Daily Harvest

Bubble, the new online destination for curated, innovative health & wellness products is live. Bubble features the best-tasting, highest-integrity health foods designed for a variety of foodie needs and lifestyles, including Keto, Paleo, Vegan, and Gut health. With new seed funding from supermodel and entrepreneur, Karlie Kloss, NBA star, Miles Plumlee, and OpenNest’s investor Tyler Wakstein, Bubble plans to introduce more independent food brands to its marketplace and launch its own branded products, including their first release of Hella, a new, better-for-you cocoa hazelnut spread.

“At Bubble, we’re on a mission to refresh ‘clean eating’ by removing the limits of previous health food marketplaces so people can redefine the way they shop, discover, and eat food,” said Jessica Young, Bubble’s Founder & CEO. “We want to be the place someone first hears about what is happening in health food and can buy it. Our marketplace is designed to be the one-stop shop for vetted health products, curated to fit individual dietary and functional needs. We are creating our own world in the future of food, a bubble, where things are easy, transparent and protected.”

“I’ve always been passionate about discovering food options and ingredients that are both delicious and good for you," Kloss said. "Bubble is creating a community that offers tasty, nutritious products in a smart, easy-to-search way. I'm excited to support Bubble’s female-led team as they launch the marketplace."

Federal Court Reverses EPA Relaxing Ban On Chlorpyrifos, Gives Agency 60 Days To Reinstitute Ban

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The ninth circuit federal court on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide widely linked to brain damage in kids. The court ruled in a 2-to-1 decision that the EPA offered “no defense” of its decision to delay a ban on chlorpyrifos ― a move the court said violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The law governs pesticides, mandating that the EPA ban chemicals from being used on food, if scientific evidence establishes that they cause harm. 

The agency has 60 days to finalize a ban initiated by the Obama Administration in November 2015.

The Trump administration's then head of the EPA Scott Pruitt reversed the ban on chlorpyrifos in March 2017, almost immediately after taking the office and with little explanation. 

Critics were furious with Pruitt and Trump for putting DOW Chemical profits ahead of the health of Americans. In a joint letter to Pruitt in June, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, said they were “deeply alarmed” by his decision. 

“EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk,” they wrote. 

The decision to relax rules around pesticides came at a time when Ivanka Trump was promoting feeding children organic food not contaminated by pesticides. Her silence on the proposed reversal of a chlorpyrifos ban was one of the earliest examples of Ivanka saying she stands for women and children, but then takes little positive action to help them, if it means disagreeing with her father. 

All concerned bloggers and activists noted at the time that now-retired Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was then the head of President Trump's new American Manufacturing Council. Oh, and he also donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration.

Dow celebrated Pruitt's actions on reversing the ban on chlorpyrifos and activists went to court. The Council headed by Dow's Liveris was disbanded after multiple CEOs refused to serve any longer after Trump equivocated in his remarks about white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, one year ago this weekend. 

The absurdity of Ivanka Trump's silence at the time of the EPA actions contrasted with the advice given by her health coach on IvankaTrump.com:

“The average conventional apple is sprayed with over 45 different chemicals, including six that are known or suspected carcinogens, 16 suspected hormone disruptors, five neurotoxins (a.k.a brain cell killers), and six developmental or reproductive toxins… It is definitely worth the premium price tag.”

More than 24 studies have found "chlorpyrifos to be  a neurotoxin that very likely affects the development of children’s brains, most particularly if the exposure is prenatal." The pesticide was banned in residential use 17 years ago but continued to be used in agriculture.